Sitting at a traffic
light on the way home from the revival, Old Man Cordin flicked the edge of the orange card
with the tip of his fingernail. His wife didn't have a card, since as she'd said,
"What do we need with more than one? Heck, we do everything else together except go
to the bathroom, don't we?" He looked at the salmon colored card. It was blank. He
turned it over. In the upper left hand cornerprinted in black inkwas one word,
set in a typestyle that was an incredibly poor imitation of handwritten script:
And underneath it, set in plain block
Make General Repairs
Next to that
was a simple line drawing of a mustachioed man astride the roof of a house, wielding a
hammer while wearing a top hat, holding a cane, and reading from a book entitled HOW TO
FIX IT. Though it didn't look or read much like what either of them envisioned a
prayer card to be, it did seem like a pretty good idea, for though they'd been considering
fixing up the store for quite some time, what they'd been sorely lacking was the impetus.
On All Your Property
"If a prayer card can't
steer us in the right direction, what can?" Old Man Cordin asked his wife on their
way home. "I say we start from the front of the store and work our way back."
Bright and early Monday morning a
sign painter would be standing on the sidewalk in front of the store eyeballing the front
window. Old Man Cordin had just given him his instructions: repaint the sign as it
originally was, but add two new lines beneath it:
New and Used
Flatware and Silver Service
The sign painter suffered
from what was, in his chosen profession anyway, a major handicap. For while a diesel
mechanic, assembly line worker, or beautician might readily find ways to work around the
problem, a dyslexic sign painter might as well hang a placard on his back saying: Job
It's questionable whether fate
guided his hand or history followed his lead, but no sooner would he finish painting the
first of the new lines than the floor of the display window split in two, throwing his
legs out from under him and sending him down to the hard concrete floor of the basement
where he landed smack on his ass. What would later be diagnosed as a broken coccyx would
lay him up for six weeks, the entire time being spent flat on his stomach on the grossly
uncomfortable living room couch because he was unable to negotiate the stairs. He was,
however, perfectly able to talk to his lawyer on the phone, a man who would make very sure
that the newly painted dyslexic line on Old Man Cordin's sign became prophetic:
Watches * Rings * Gold Bought
Precious and Semi-precious Jewels
New and Sued
* * * * * *
Hanner's father sat in the
folding chair under the tent looking at his watch for the 4,325th time that hour. To him
patience was less a virtue than it was a large neon sign with a moving arrow pointing out
those who had nothing worthwhile to do with their lives.
"This certainly was a far
cry from dance class," he told his daughter. "Are you ready to go?"
Hanner nodded her head quickly,
her hair bouncing up and down over her eyes. She would have said "yes", except
she was afraid that if she opened her mouth nothing more than an elongated groan would be
able to issue forth, for she was deep in the throes of her first experience with the
already-despised-but-here-to-stay menstrual cramps. She had very seriously considered
heeding the Quite Reverend's mass invitation to join the infirmed at the side of the
stage, but decided that not only werent cramps very high up on the faith healing
Top-10, but she wasn't yetand for that matter might never beat the level of
emotional development where she wanted a large crowd of predominantly strangers to know
that she was suffering this pubescent punishment.
Hanner and her father stood up
and sidled along the row, forcing people to either stand or throw their legs sideways to
let them by. Mr. Myana dropped the orange card he'd randomly selected on an empty seat as
they walked by. It read:
Next to that
was a drawing of the same mustachioed man with his feet up on a desk blowing smoke rings.
Had Hanner's father read the card he would have laughed, for while the concept was dead
on, the card was sorely lacking in accuracy. By about four zeroes to be exact. For what
Hanner's father liked to think of as an undeclared dividend, the Penultimate National Bank
would more correctly label as embezzlement; and what he had begun doing for the express
purpose of elevating his lifestyle would ultimately lower it to the very simple needs of
BANK PAYS YOU
DIVIDEND OF $50
Hanner, on the other hand, put
her card in her pocket where she wouldn't find it for nearly a week, finally discovering
it during a pre-wash pocket check along with forty-three cents, two sticks of Dentyne, an
unturned-in hall pass, a safety pin, and two lint-covered Midols. The card was yellow and
had the words Community Chest typeset in that same
pseudo-script, while underneath was printed:
FROM SALE OF
Next to it
was a drawing of the mustachioed man entangled in a tentacle of ticker tape.
Remembering the three shares of
stock her grandfather had given her for her last birthday, Hanner would look through the
tiny print of the stock tables in the next morning's newspaper searching for the coal
company's listing. On a whim, she decided to sell it. For $45 after commission. She
invested the money in the stock of a small chemical company which had, unbeknownst to her,
developed a virtually indestructible dark black pencil lead which cost less than graphite
and never wore down. The patent would be quickly purchased by the Parker Pen Company,
which would go on to pay an exorbitant amount of money to purchase all outstanding shares
of the company, resulting in a quick 2000% return to Hanner. She then invested that money
in a stock which every broker who owned a telephone considered to be the ultimate dog:
Rabid Canine Concepts, the developer of the Silent Vigil Foam Rubber Wind Chimes. The wind
chimes became the hottest selling novelty since the Pet Rock, causing the company's stock
to quadruple in four months, further propelling the hot streak that would ultimately
pyramid Hanner's three-share birthday present into holdings worth over $10 million by the
time she was twenty-four years old.
* * * * * *
Crunchy Castleton spent the
entire tent meeting watching and rewatching mental slow motion instant replays of the
morning's lovemaking with Nina. By the time the Quite Reverend was kneeling by the stage
gathering up the spilt collection, Crunchy had used up virtually every speck of will power
she had trying not to hold Nina's hand or put an arm around her and draw her close. The
truth be known, it was only Nina's celebrity that stopped Crunchy, she'd obviously never
cared what anyone called her or thought about her before.
"Shall we?" she asked
Nina, exaggeratedly stretching her arms so she could brush her hand across her friend's
shoulder without attracting any undue attention.
"Shall we what?" Nina
replied with a mischievous smirk.
An orange card fell out of
Crunchy's hand and fluttered to the floor. She'd taken the card purely out of instinct; it
was passed to her, so she took it. After all, being an avowed psychic, she needed a prayer
card about as much as she needed to pay $20 at the sign of the big red hand to have her
palm read by Sister Sophia. Crunchy leaned over to pick up the orange card, stopping as
she was bent over to read it.
As she looked
at the drawing of the mustachioed man shrugging his shoulders with his pockets turned
inside out, she suddenly felt a wave of guilt come over her, not because she felt she'd
been having unclean thoughts during the servicefor no one thinks their own thoughts
to be impurebut rather because she hadn't put a donation in the Maxwell House coffee
can which had been passed along her row.
"I'll be right back,"
she told Nina, clutching her purse as she stood up.
She walked to the side of the
stage where the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III was scooping money from the
ground and putting it in the collection containers. She opened her purse and took out $15.
"This is for the poor,"
she told him, dropping the bills into an empty Hawaiian Punch can.
"The Apostle Paul said, 'Now
abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity'," he
replied without even glancing up.
Crunchy looked down at the Quite
Reverend, busily picking coins out of the grass like lint from a shag rug. She reached
into her purse and pulled out her wallet, taking all of her money and dropping it into a
red and white striped Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. She opened the change purse shaped
like a slice of watermelon and emptied the coins into the container. Then she knelt next
to the Quite Reverend and began filling the bucket with spilled money.
This wouldnt be the last
time Crunchy picked up after the Quite Reverend. Far from it. For the next eight years she
would be the Quite Reverend's indispensable aide-de-camp, making certain both his TV show
and his live appearances ran smoothly. After the first two yearsand his highly
publicized and extremely messy divorceshe would become Mrs. John Joseph Matthew Paul
III. Not to mention ridiculously wealthy.
* * * * * *
Nina stood by her chair watching
Crunchy crawl around the grass, finally realizing that her friend intended on staying in
the tent with the Quite Reverend until all of the offering had been retrieved. She went
out to her car. While fishing around in her purse for her car keyswhich like
everything else she put in there immediately and without fail sank to the bottomshe
came across her prayer card, an orange card with a drawing of the mustachioed man smoking
a cigar, his worldly belongings wrapped in a bandanna which was attached to the end of his
cane. Rather overdressed, this hobo who wore a top hat and a tuxedo jacket.
arrived home she found a message to call her husband at his hotel in Las Vegas, a small,
out of the way dive nowhere near the vicinity of the National Association of Broadcasters'
gathering. It turned out her husband had taken a demo reel of her TV show with him and
shown it to Roman Prince, the founder and despotic CEO of the eponymous Princely
Productions, the world's foremost syndicator of TV shows, who liked what he saw.
Especially the segment featuring Crunchy's interview.
Within hours after calling her
husband back a deal was struck whereby Nina would host a brand new syndicated talk show
with her husband assuming the role of executive producer. Since the show would be filmed
at Princely Productions' huge studio complex, Nina and her husband immediately put their
house on the market and made the big move to Chicago.
Within a year the show became the
most watched syndicated show on TV, catapulting Nina into a two-year supernova career as
America's foremost personality. As the flame died down the show settled into a very
unfulfilling routinenot unlike her marriagewith the notable difference being
that the show at least was still moderately successful.
It would be eight years after the
tent meetingalmost to the daythat Nina would once again have the opportunity
to interview Crunchy, this time before a nationwide audience. When the Quite Reverend was
diagnosed as a delusional paranoid schizophrenichaving unsuccessfully tried seven
times during his final year out of captivity to have his name legally changed to Jesus
Buddha Mohammed Nietzsche Joe Bob Christ IIICrunchy, who inherited control of his
rather extensive holdings, donated it all to the Indian Guides, an obscure children's
character-building organization which, not unlike the Boy or Girl Scouts, taught otherwise
sophisticated spoiled suburban brats to live like a cartoon version of the American Indian
making such an indelible impression on the youths that years later they would inflict the
weekly meetings of the Indian Guides on their own offspring.
After taping the show, Nina and
Crunchy had dinner together at S'il Vous Plate, Chicago's trendy French-Korean restaurant
of the hour. After dinner they returned to Crunchy's hotel room. The next morning Nina had
her lawyer draw up the necessary divorce papers while she and Crunchy went house hunting.
They would live together longer, and happier, than their two marriages put together.
* * * * * *
As soon as it became apparent
that the tent meeting was all but adjourned, Miss Hellstrom headed straight for her car.
Teachers don't put up with any more nonsense outside of the classroom than they do in it.
She drove down Broad Street and found a parking space, and before getting out of the car
took a compact from her purse and touched up her lipstick. Then, once on the sidewalk, she
straightened her conservative summer weight suit and walked up to the door of the Nu-Life
Career Placement office for the second time that day.
Her hand grasped the tarnished
brass door knob. It turned! She smiled just as she smacked into the door with a bang. She
turned the knob again; it spun around, but the door wouldn't budge. She stepped back and
scowled at the door, then kicked it hard, wincing as pain shot up her leg. Leaning against
the building with one hand, she took off her shoe and rubbed her foot. This place was more
trouble than it was worth.
Gingerly slipping her foot back
in its shoe, she opened her purse to search out a pen and a scrap of paper. Sooner or
later everyone finds out it's not a good idea to stand up an English teacher, though most
people discover this before they finish the seventh grade. She put the pen, which had
"Johnson's Burger Bar - Home of the Pork Chop Sandwich" imprinted on the barrel,
between her teeth. She pulled a small yellow card from her purse; it didn't have much room
for writing, but after all, if an English teacher couldn't be concise, who could? She
flipped the card over to make sure it wasn't anything she might need to keepit was
the prayer card shed taken at the revival meeting. She looked at the drawing of the
mustachioed man patting a nerdwho's name surely must have been Quincyon the
head while dropping two paltry coins in his hand. It read:
Hellstrom shook her head, turned the card over, and proceeded to write the Nu-Life Career
Placement people a scathing fifteen line note in a cursive script even an anal retentive
would call small and constricted.
After leaving the note wedged
between the door and jamb, she got in her car and drove home. On the way, a strange, oddly
familiar yet discomforting thought stuck in her mind like a piece of crushed red pepper
from Rays Pizza glued to the back of her throat. When she got home she pulled out
her pay check stubs for the past year, which she kept in chronological order in the top
left drawer of the desk in the living room. She examined the first several stubs, then
thumbed through a few more, slowly picking up speed until she was literally flipping
through them. Each monthly check stub had a deduction for the United Teachers' Council
Pension Fund in the amount of $150. She picked up a pen and made a note on a scratch pad
to find out how well her contributions to the fund were doing, then put the check stubs
away and took a long, hot bath.
Come Monday, Miss Hellstrom began
a personal inquiry that unearthed an incredibly convoluted cover-up involving virtually
everyone connected with the local United Teachers' Council, the pension fund manager, and
even the fund's trustees. Thanks to her persistenceand the enlisted aid of a young,
hungry consumer issues reporterthe extent of the embezzlement and mismanagement of
the now broke pension fund would be brought to light, culminating in the indictment of
eight people on a total of seventy-two charges.
As a result of this, the local
United Teachers' Council no longer had any leadership, nor even a secretary for that
matter. Miss Hellstrom, who had a very high profile at the timenot to mention the
gratefulness and admiration of thousands of teacherswas unanimously elected to the
position of president by the rank and file, which within a year would lead to her becoming
national undersecretary, and less than a year after that, the president of the national
office. The Nu-Life Career Placement counselors couldn't have done any more for her had
they actually been more than a front for a local bookmaking operation.
[ Chapter 31 ]